Irrawaddy dolphins red listed

Photo courtesy of WWF Cambodia
Photo courtesy of WWF Cambodia

Cambodia’s beloved Irrawaddy dolphins are facing troubled waters, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) yesterday flagging the riverine mammal as ‘critically endangered’ in an update to its ‘Red List’.

The dolphins are often caught in gillnets, which cast broad tangles of net that create the greatest threat to the freshwater mammals, according to the IUCN release. Overfishing of the dolphins’ food sources and habitat destruction have also led to a 50 percent drop in population in the past 60 years, the release said. Randall Reeves, chair of the IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group, said in an IUCN release that the dolphin is a major tourism draw along the Mekong River, especially in Cambodia.

“While the protected status of the species means that deliberate hunting or capture is rare or non-existent, protection from entanglement and other threats is either lacking entirely or largely ineffective,” Reeves said. Youk Senglong, deputy executive director for the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), yesterday acknowledged illegal fishing as a contributing factor to the dolphins’ decline, but he pointed to hydropower dams upstream on the Mekong as the most serious source of trauma.

“Now the Irrawaddy is really in danger, and there should be prompt and effective intervention from the government and other relevant stakeholders, such as development partners, to conserve it,” he said in an email.